My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Four members of a rock band called "The Philosophers Stone" split up after a recording session on a December night at Ystrad Duu Abbey in South Wales. It happened to be the night that John Lennon was killed, and one member of the band felt that he was experiencing the event as it was happening. The others all experienced bad things too, so they destroyed the tapes and left without completing the album they were recording.
Fourteen years later a producer tries to persuade them to get back together to finish the uncompleted album. but they have heard that bad things had happened there before, and seemed to happen at seven-year intervals, so they are reluctant to do so, unless they can break the jinx on the abbey, whose history seems to have been less holy than they had thought.
This book is vintage Phil Rickman, first published in 1994 when he was still writing horror, before he started fancying himself as a writer of whodunits, so I was glad to have found it in a second-hand bookshop, and find it was one that I hadn't read -- I've found new books by Phil Rickman in the past and then discovered that they are ones I've already read, but have been sneakily reissued by the publishers under a different title. I liked this one a lot better than some of his more recent books which are more like detective stories. In this one there are dead bodies and the police do investigate, but by the time all the bodies are counted, everyone knows who did it. It's not that I don't like whodunits. I do, and quite often read them. But there are lots of better whodunit writers out there than Phil Rickman; there are not nearly as many good horror writers.
As with most horror books there are also some pretty nasty things that happen. Why in a ruined abbey? Well, it seems that there were unholy goings on there in the past, including the ultimate betrayal. And while reading it I kept thinking of something told me many years ago by Father Ephraim of the Simonos Petros Monastery on the Holy Mountain. He said that more people go to hell from monasteries than anywhere else. It's all too easy for a monk to lose his (or her) nipsis (watchfulness).
There are some flaws. One of them was that he rapidly switches viewpoint characters without indicating which character it is, so I often found I would start reading a section, and by the third paragraph real ised which character it was, and had to go back and re-read from the beginning of the section to place the scene in my mind. That gets mildly annoying after a while.
He also included too many cliffhangers --something bad happens to one character, and just at the critical point he switches to another, and by the time you get back to the scene you find that something else had happened, and often to a different character. This is OK the first couple of times, but when it is overdone it gets tiresome, and Phil Rickman doesn't seem to know when to stop.
But aside from those rather minor niggles it was an enjoyable read.
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